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Battling Phone Addiction in Lockdown

Kristina Wemyss discusses our attachment to our digital devices and offers tips for cutting down your screen time

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Image Credit: Alice Manning

Despite lockdown giving many of us the opportunity to spend ample time with our families, mindless scrolling has become the norm. Most of us are quite aware of the impacts that mobile phones and social media have on our physical and mental health, so I won’t reel off the same speech about eye-strain, RSI and body dysmorphia. Despite these facts, phones have become such intrinsic parts of our lives – virtually handheld extensions of ourselves – that we still don’t know how to separate the screen from the self.

To begin 2021 in a positive way, a bit less dependent on our electronic devices, this article will include my own experiences with phone addiction, resources which have helped me and some personal tips.

We don’t need to boycott phones altogether. There are undeniable benefits that come with these remarkable devices; they enable instant connections across the world, access to vast collections of media and entertainment, and can serve as fantastic educational tools, with a wealth of knowledge available at our fingertips. That’s why my own goal during lockdown is not to stop using my phone, but to develop a more healthy relationship with it.

The book which finally forced me to confront my own phone addiction was How to Break Up With Your Phone in 30 Days by Catherine Price, which I would highly recommend. It is split into two sections. The first part is about the effects of excessive phone usage and how technology and software developers create agenda-driven systems to trap you in a ‘scroll hole’. It’s quite similar in terms of content to Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma which has gained significant attention since its release in August 2020. A lot of the information is common knowledge, but Price writes from a very honest and personal perspective of a former phone addict, using facts that helped to kickstart her own battle with phone addiction. The second part of the book is a 30-day plan which consists of small steps that you can take to set yourself on the road towards a more healthy relationship with your phone.

While it’s easy to read a book, what is not so easy is making lasting changes to your everyday behaviour. I ‘fell off the bandwagon’ several times, abandoning the plan. The truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution – people use their phones in different ways, and equally, people need to take different measures to develop healthier relationships with their devices. Acknowledging this, here are a few of my favourite tips which might be good places to start, rather than complete plans:

1. Track your screen time
Many people are already aware of their screen time, but tracking it via an app and regularly checking in to see how much time you are spending on your phone and what you are doing during this time can be enough of a wake-up call to kickstart some people’s battles against addiction.

2. Disable notifications
You can disable notifications for as many or as few apps as you wish. If you still want to be reachable, perhaps start with social media apps rather than plain old text messages. There have been studies which have disproved the idea that addiction stems from the notifications themselves, but they undoubtedly serve as a reminder from your phone, virtually telling you to “pick me up!”. Disabling this feature can therefore make you less inclined to pick up your phone and get stuck in a ‘scroll hole’. However, this technique can have adverse effects; it can cause a desire to check the apps more often, just in case you might be missing something vital. Try this tip for a few days and see whether you find yourself spending more or less time on these apps, before adopting it permanently. Also, if you want to start small, change your settings to disable notifications for a set period of time each day.

3. Mindfulness
I’ve been sceptical of this concept in the past: examining the look, smell and texture of a raisin before eating it, as I was taught to do so in secondary school, certainly brings me no inner peace. However, mindfulness in this context means thinking about your relationship with your phone. Thinking about how you feel when you automatically reach for it, when you find yourself scrolling etc, and comparing this to when you are living in the present off-screen. It’s likely that as soon as you remind yourself to pause and think, you will start to realise how it affects your mood and want to make that change.

4. Leave your phone outside
While many of us use our phones’ built-in alarms for convenience, my best piece of advice would be to invest in an alarm clock and charge your phone outside of your bedroom. When you go to bed and wake up, it is very easy to scroll for long periods of time, which sets a depressing tone for the day and can severely impact your sleep schedule, particularly due to the blue light that phone screens emit. Choosing not to look at your phone first thing in the morning and last thing at night will automatically make you feel less bound to it.

These are not groundbreaking pieces of advice. Many people are already aware of them. However, they are tried and tested and really can help to improve your physical and mental health, so I would implore everyone to try them at least once. We shouldn’t feel guilty for spending more time than usual on our phones; we are in the midst of a pandemic and they can provide a much-needed form of escapism. However, this relationship should be on your terms. It can feel very liberating to take back control of your focus, confidence and relaxation, and now, at the beginning of 2021, there is no better time to do just that.

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